Wanting a bit of culture we head to the vibrant shophouses of Singapore’s Chinatown.
Singapore’s historic Chinatown was laid out in a distinct enclave by Raffles (as in the bloke who likes a cocktail) in 1822.
Despite that, Chinatown has never been homogenous. Although, Chinese with similar dialect, origins or name helped newcomers with lodgings and work, Indian workers also lived here.
Today, you’ll find a mix of Hindu and Taoist temples, churches and mosques sitting alongside Chinese temples.
It’s a very colourful area of narrow streets full of bustling food and flea markets and slightly wider streets of restaurants and shops all with a back drop of mainly residential tower blocks.
We started at the rather wonderful Tanjong Pagar Road.
The little shop houses have been lovingly restored and now sit pretty.
Heading on to South Bridge Road is where you’ll find the oddly named Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. If you want to pop in and explore, shorts, skirts and sleeveless tops are not allowed. It contains a theatre, museums, an exhibition centre, a gift shop and a teahouse as well as prayer halls. Phew!
Singapore’s Chinatown is a very distinctive area and it feels really safe to wander round.
Another temple you’ll come across is the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple, where the ‘Mother Goddess’ is worshipped. She is believed to cure diseases and, appropriately, free medical care is available here.
It’s Singapore’s oldest Hindu place of worship.
It’s approaching lunchtime and we could pull up a chair at Chinatown’s popular Food Court,
but we’ve planned to head back to Tanjong Pagar to sample some Peranakan cuisine at Blue Ginger restaurant.
Peranakan culture traditionally had the matriarch of the family bring everyone together over spicy and aromatic food. How well a ‘Nonya’ can cook is a reflection of how well bred she is. No pressure there then!
Little bowls of pickled veg were placed on the table as we placed our order. Not something I’d normally go for but they were really crunchy and moreish.
Little dishes began to arrive as and when they were prepared.
Duck salad tossed in Nonya sauce. Soft soft duck and a juicy, crunchy salad. Mmmm!
Crispy Chicken Bites served with an Asian style chilli dip. Ngo Heong, homemade rolls of minced pork and prawns seasoned with five-spice powder wrapped and fried to crispy golden brown.
Much better than your takeaway from home!
Fluffy rice was topped up from a basket by our adorable waitress. Even Charlotte who was feeling poorly today had a big smile.
Beef Rendang, tender beef cubes prepared in rich coconut milk spiced with ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves and a dash of curry powder and Babi Pong Tay, stewed pork shoulder with preserved bean paste flavored with cinnamon bark.
Ayam Panggang “Blue Ginger”, deboned chicken thigh and drumstick flavoured with coconut milk rich in exotic spices and grilled to perfection.
Sotong Keluak, fresh squid stir- fried with black nut paste and tamarind juice.
Now, brace yourself for dessert. Up to now we have feasted on incredible and exotic flavours. But, is Peranakan culture famous for their desserts?
We asked our young waitress what she recommended. Go for the Gula Melaka, chilled sago topped with honey sea coconut, she suggested, seen below on the left. A very nice and refreshing way to finish the meal.
How about the Durian Chendol, the house favourite? The oddest sounding dessert we’ve ever heard – beans and pandan flavoured jelly in freshly squeezed coconut milk sweetened with gula melaka and durian puree.
Our young waitress said it was a favourite of older generation and winked. Feeling we wanted to live life dangerously we decided to go for it, intrigued at trying something with durian fruit in. You’ll smell it on market stalls all over Chinatown.
I can only say we left shuddering and shivering, feeling like we wanted to rub our tongues on a flannel. Perhaps our British tongues can’t take it.
I’m not known as a masochist but I am still glad we tried it.
If you want to sink yourselves into a cultural lunch, sitting among the locals, get a table at Blue Ginger. The food is delicious and it’s full of heart. Just, approach the Durian Chendol dessert cautiously!
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